So this is new Standard:
Or at least that's what the Pro Tour leads you to believe. Fortunately, some of us are interested in another way:
Stay with me on this one folks.
While Abzan Mindrange is all the rage these days thanks to Ari putting on a clinic at the Pro Tour, the rest of the Magic world is moving in a slightly more red direction.
For those keeping a close eye on the Open Series, Jeskai Aggro has been showing its resilience and depth week after week. The deck presents a package of creatures that is brutally efficient at dealing twenty points of damage while also presenting a robust burn package. This past weekend, Dave Shiels rocked out a Jeskai Aggro list to a respectable top 4 finish.
For those not up to speed on the premise of the Jeskai Aggro, let's take a moment to understand how this deck is putting up such great results. First, let's take a look at the creature package:
Prowess is the real deal folks. Many people have seen the mechanic at work in Modern and Legacy thanks to Monastery Swiftspear carrying a few extra points of damage after that Lighting Bolt. Let me tell you right now - this card is a big deal and will not go away. Aggro decks have to deal with a two drop that gives every burn spell the ability to be a Lighting Helix. I don't know how many of you have had the misfortune of dealing with Helix from the creature side of the table, but trust me when I say that it's a depressing experience. It is important to note prowess also creates a complex combat step that requires careful blocking as early as turn 3.
Don't block? Point this Lighting Strike at your face and gain three life. Thanks Helix Bear!
Block with a Sylvan Caryatid? Fiery Plant BBQ and a few of your life points as well!
So Seeker is a headache in combat and racing situations. Let's kill it off and hope they don't have anything else to jump in the red zone...
This terrible twosome is where Jeskai Aggro draws a lot of its damage from. Mantis Rider is showing the new guys how to do the Lighting Angel, and Goblin Rabblemaster is still one of the fastest clocks available. Putting them together means even the decks that don't mind Seeker of the Way still need to keep these two in mind and not skimp on the removal.
While not a foolproof method, thinking of these two creatures as your most important assets in the early game is vital to success with this archetype. Every time you take a life point in combat it means one less card you need to direct at their face to wrap things up. This is a big deal when you are fighting against the Siege Rhino/Wingmate Roc decks.
While these cards are unique in many regards, they are both hasty threats that hit hard and close out games fast. While Stormbreath really puts the screws to Abzan decks, it doesn't really matchup well against Stoke the Flames and Disdainful Stroke. Sarkhan provides the flexibility of a Flametongue Kavu impersonation attached to his ability to take to the skies and crack for four. I think this slot is where the true Jeskai aficionados find the perfect large threat for the metagame at the time. I wouldn't be surprised to see Wingmate Rocs start popping up in some numbers as a means of gaining a maindeck advantage in the mirrors.
Lighting Strike and Stoke the Flames are the current flavor of life point sponges in the format. They will gladly clean up any life points left around after the Jeskai creature suite has done its work or they can be turned towards those blockers making life hard for our creatures. There's really not a lot to say here, but realize that Magma Jet does offer some card selection, and cutting copies needs to come with the realization you are losing a vital draw smoothing mechanic.
I originally lumped this into the burn category, but after playing a few games with it, I realized Jeskai Charm is a lot more than a burn spell. The lifelink mode lets you trade early damage with the aggressive decks in the format and gain it all back in one massive chunk. If you need to push a blocker out of the way and steal back some tempo, the Time Ebb mode is just the ticket.
The most important thing to realize when playing Jeskai Charm is the best mode to use changes quickly. So make sure you get your reps in with the Charm and start reaping the benefits when you correctly identify the correct situations to use a specific mode. Simple stuff in theory, but trust me when I say this card will really test your ability to sequence over the course of many turns as its role in your gameplan shifts rapidly.
By this time, everyone has figured out the delve duo of Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are powerful enough to impact just about every format we get to play Magic in. What's this mean for the Jeskai pilot? It means we have 116 octane racing fuel to drive this whole Jeskai Aggro engine forward.
Used up all your guys and burn but haven't finished the job? Just Dig It!
Someone brought pesky counterspells to ruin our fun? Dig into that deck!
While Shiels chose three copies of this bad boy in his list, I don't shy away at the thought of four of these guys in this strategy.
These slots seem to be 100% metagame calls by Shiels. I love what each card is bringing to the table and think small changes such as these allow the deck to attack specific strategies in a more efficient manner, thus freeing up your other resources to drop your opponent to zero.
Jeskai Aggro is emerging as a frontrunner for the "Best Deck" title of Khans Standard, but let's not be too narrow in seeking a new path for this Standard format. Brad Nelson took another stab at an aggressive archetype that capitalizes on Seeker of the Way in a completely different way and was rewarded with top 8 finish at Grand Prix Los Angeles compliments of this spicy number:
Many people are going to immediately cry that this deck is completely different than what the Jeskai deck is trying to accomplish. Personally this deck feels like an evolution of the concepts championed by Jeskai Aggro. You still have an efficient creature suite but present it in slightly different package by trading in some of the burn spells for better removal and additional planeswalkers. Let's take a look at the differences here and start to better understand how this deck is attacking the format.
Flop three goblins on the table and pump our Seeker? Deal! This card seems like a perfect roadblock against the Mono-Red Aggro decks that are starting to pick up in popularity. The play of turn 3 Outburst into turn 4 Sorin, Solemn Visitor will cause many Mono-Red pilots to pack it in on the spot. The rest will shake their heads and wonder where all that hard earned damage they had piled on went. It's also very important to note that Hordeling Outburst also enables Butcher of the Horde to get in the red zone immediately while not sacrificing any relevant permanents. Lastly, while it sometimes doesn't work perfectly with Goblin Rabblemaster, other times its lets you turn up the damage just enough to close out a game a turn earlier.
I know that during week one testing for the new Standard, this card kept coming up in conversation as powerful, absurd, ridiculous, bonkers, and plain ol' unfair. Then reality kinda set in and no one had found the right combination of creature fodder to ensure Butcher was really putting the screws to people. I think Brad has found that combination of fodder and threats to complement the Butcher.
Being across from this bad boy as a Jeskai pilot is kind of sickening. Then again, casting your own Roc immediately brings a sunbeam across your face as you toss them into the red zone. If you haven't had the pleasure of Roc-ing out, I recommend you give it a shot before everyone catches on.
The creature package from Mardu is a bit more resilient, but the goal is the same: deal damage as efficiently as possible in order to strain the resources of your opponents so as to maximize the impact of the rest of your maindeck. This does mean that sometimes you are the control deck while playing this deck, but due to the nature of your creatures, that is a role you are perfectly suited for. I feel like this tradeoff of combat damage for a more robust set of abilities is fair, and you will win games with this deck on the back of your creatures' ability to take over games on their own.
While the creatures in this flavor of Seeker deck are similar, the removal suite presented by Brad really set this archetype apart.
At first I wasn't sold on this glorified edict effect. Then I realized that the Jeskai matchup tends to be one creature going sideways for as long as possible, a problem that Crackling Doom easily solves. Be it a Sarkhan or Mantis Rider, Crackling Doom doesn't care and even shocks your opponent just to be sassy.
Abrupt Decay is gone so Chain to the Rocks can finally stretch its legs. Sure the manabase was stretched a little too much to accommodate it, but the payoff is a one mana removal spell that doesn't discriminate. Abzan mages can't be happy to have their four and five mana threats trumped by a one mana removal spell, much less when the removal spells is followed up with another cheap threat in the same turn.
This was a card that got a lot of press thanks to Ari crushing Abzan mirrors left and right due to the +1 ability on Sorin. Lucky for us, Sorin isn't picky as to who he is helping out and will pump goblins and birds alike.
I think it's important to understand the flexibility offered by a card like Sorin. He allows your aggro matchups to have a clear plan of creatures into Sorin lifelink to wrap things up. If you're against a more attrition based matchup, you can start making 2/2 Vampires to help close out the game. But the real gem here is Sorin's ultimate. While your primary plan is not to assume the control role in every matchup, sometimes the ground gets a little clogged and you need a way to chip away at that stalemate. Queue up a Sorin ultimate and viola, stalemate broken!
I think the true strength of the Mardu deck will come to light as we get a chance to see it in action over the course of the next few weeks on the Open Series. If we are especially lucky, Brad will breakdown this deck in full detail soon. I'm sure I missed some key points of the archetype, but I couldn't resist bringing this masterpiece to the public eye.
I think the next month of the Standard format is going to see more evolutions of decks like Brad's. This Standard format presents a complex set of variables that encourages exploration and a good amount of innovation to find that next big thing. I, for one, am super excited to see what else people come up with to fight the post-Pro Tour metagame. If things continue on that Abzan road, I hear there is a dragon that really could use some love after a long period on the bench, but until then, I plan on seeking out the best ways to address Abzan so we can continue our happy rhino hunting ways.